The classic American musical West Side Story has well and truly stood the test of time. The touring version now on stage at The Civic is closely modeled on the Broadway original by dream team Robbins, Bernstein, Sondheim and Laurents, and is a superbly presented production to delight in.
With a nod to Shakespeare's tragic love story Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is set amongst the tenements of 1950s Manhattan. The action plays out between rival street gangs, the Euro-American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks, and their respective female associates.
The tragic love story ensues between Tony (Kevin Hack) a former leader of the Jets, and Maria (Jenna Burns), newly-arrived sister to the leader of the Sharks.
A clever set by Paul Gallis sets the mood with rolling metal tenement balconies and fire escapes set against sepia-toned photographic streetscapes or occasional colour wash lighting. The men wear tshirts or collar-and-tie with jeans or chinos, sneakers or wingtips, bright colours for the Sharks and muted for the Jets.
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The Shark women wear strappy ruffled dresses in multiple bright colours, while the Jet women wear modestly draped v-neck dresses. All the women have bare feet rather than the ballet slippers worm in the original production.
The well-known songs such as Somewhere, Something's Coming, Maria, America, and Tonight are fulsomely delivered, and there's full-bodied sound from a 20 piece orchestra conducted by Donald Chan.
The dancing creates the characters and tells the story through the flow of movement, assisted by the lyrics and dialogue, and it's a joy to follow the action.1950s Broadway jazz ballet is infused with street and nightclub styles, with contrasting body language and patterning for the gangs and their female associates.
Crisp clean lines, airy leaps, rapid rolls, and watchful circling bring plenty of drama to the men's encounters, and the clicking of fingers adds an aura of menace. There's polished precision dancing from the entire cast and especially fine performances from the principals throughout.
A must-see for Broadway aficionados.
What: West Side Story
Where & when: The Civic, Queen Street, until 30 June
Reviewer: Raewyn Whyte